Could they really tell

May 8, 2006
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I have lately become very curious with how one would distinguish between first and second class passengers? I mean second class prices were that of first on most ships, so I assume the second class did not dress much less fashionably than the first class passengers. Maybe I am wrong. I ask because in Camerons version of the film it was easy to tell between first and third, but second was kind of a gray area. Maybe someone remembers from the film, but them loading the lifeboat that the character Rose jumps from, you see a father handing his wife his two daughters. The girls are crying and asking their father to get into the boat. The father is dressed decently, but I am not sure they are first or second. I know I also see these two girls at the very beginning when the film is black and white, they look like first class little girls, but as there were not two first class little girls that age on Titanic I assume they are second class. I don't mean to focus so much on the film, but I am trying to show my confusion. And if I am so confused, I wonder if it would have been easy enough for a second class passengers to wonder first class and not be bothered. I wonder.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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Chris, I doubt that the production team were constantly asking themselves the same kind of questions that you're asking here, so I wouldn't look too closely for reflections of reality in everything you see on screen.

Certainly in reality the visual (if not the vocal) distinctions between passengers from different classes, especially when dressed for the boat deck, would not have been as extreme as the movies often suggest. For Cameron's film class distinction was an important theme, so 2nd Class is almost invisible and the 3rd Class men are generally dressed like costermongers and farm labourers on a working day. In reality, many even of the 3rd Class passengers would have boarded the ship dressed in their best, thus smartly attired in suits and ties. On the boat deck some of the 1st Class were still clad in smart evening wear, but many had 'dressed down' for the conditions and anonymous flat caps, for instance, would have been favoured by men of all Classes. During the official inquiries following the disaster, many of the crew survivors were asked about the Class of passengers in their lifeboats, and most found it difficult to answer with certainty.
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Dec 2, 2000
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My own opinion...and it may not be worth much...is that if anyone could tell who was who, it would have been the stewards and stewardesses. The experienced ones who lasted long in the job would have to have some pretty sharp skills of observation in order to just do their jobs. They also tended to know the "frequent flyers" of the day.
 
May 13, 2006
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>>is that if anyone could tell who was who, it would have been the stewards and stewardesses.<<

Violet Jessops who asked to be an advisor on ANTR - but declined - later said that when she saw the film and how the ladies hats were - all wrong - much to elaborate with feathers and so on, for passengers at that time. I suspect that most passengers would and try to dress, if they could afford it, up in their station in life. But like Michael said the crew would have been very attuned and I suspect they would spotted straight away the true social status of any passengers.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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I suspect that there was not much need for the crew to tell one class from another. In those days, there was far more willingness to conform to rules than there is today. On the whole, the different classes seem to have been prepared to keep to their own areas, even during the sinking. The same goes for much of the crew. The deck crew and stewards were lucky not to be overwhelmed by robust third class passengers with fists and boots, or by stokers and trimmers, with shovels and slices.
 
Apr 11, 2001
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Traveling attire was usually dark-colored, thanks to the dirt and dust, coal smuts, and unavailability of places to freshen up aboard trains and other public conveyances. Traveling costumes in most vintage collections I have seen are black, dark charcoal, navy or brown. Hats and accessories are simpler, comfortable, serviceable shoes, dark gloves and few simple accessories were the norm. Not prudent to wear expensive jewelry on a train, on deck, etc.-who knew who one's traveling companions might be. I was always a little amused to see Kate Winslet arrive in that white boarding suit, beautiful and stylish though it was. The difference in social class for the most part seems to be in the quality of fabric and tailoring and current stylishness of the ensembles, with the wealthy affording the best quality and latest fashion. Much can be learned by reading the descriptions of the bodies and personal effects of those recovered and brought to Halifax. Col. Astor was wearing a dark blue serge suit.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Actually, John, I was thinking specifically of the stewards and stewardesses, a number of whom would have known the truly well heeled on sight simply because they knew them, and had known them for years. It was not unknown for passengers to request specific steward(esse)s by name if they had recieved especially attentive or at the very least consistantly competant services from them.

I'm sure some of the officers were fairly well connected too, such as Captain Smith who had that little dinner party in his honour offered up by the Wideners. I doubt very much that the deck seamen and especially the engineers would have known or even cared since they lived in what might as well have been a seperate universe. They not only were not to be heard from, some were not even supposed to be seen.